Notes: On the rudiments of culture


From The Infanticidal Logic of Evolution and Culture by A. Samuel Kimball. Not a popular book by any means, but essential reading for the too often ignored basics.

The infanticidal implications of reproductive success, easy enough to demonstrate, are burdensome to accept, for they signal the mistakenness of the common belief that evolution is principally the set of processes by which life proliferates. To the contrary, evolutionary change gives rise to life only as that life economizes on – lives off of by destroying- itself within a thermodynamic horizon that condemns all living things to extinction. (42)

Evolution is economization; economization is sacrificial because it necessitates the deflection of costs onto others and the environment. What’s more, this sacrifice is intrinsically infanticidal following the thermodynamic limit imposed by the evolutionary economy. Infanticide destroys lineages singly and collectively, in the present and into the future. This economy entails not only these ends, but “the inevitable end of life itself.” (37) If you are a living animal, you are a butcher. Terrestrial vital existence is axiomatically ruled by these principles. “The evolutionary program knows no other economy, and the economy it does know is sacrificial.” (38)

Survival is either overproduction or overconsumption, or both. At any level, it entails ‘the direct or indirect sacrifice of life’ (38). To paraphrase Darwin, living is only living insofar as it is the destruction of life. The changes of history and the development of societies need to be understood as patterns of territorialization and micro and macro parasitism. Without the ‘checks’ imposed by infanticide, excessive procreation would soon annihilate the biosphere. (41) Ironically it is also the drive to reproduce which serves to curb excess through the destruction it necessitates. “Ecosystems, then, are infanticidal matrices that support life by inducing mass death.” (42) Life is the erasure of life; this is its factum, both teleologically and immanently.

Throughout the nineteenth century some Europeans, like Charles Lyell in his revolutionary three-volume study of the earth in the l850s, Principles of Geology, equated the operations of this agency those of culture, finding in the European “advance” an expression of nature’s most basic truth: “Yet, if we wield the sword of extermination we advance, we have no reason to repine the havoc committed. . . . have only to reflect, that in thus obtaining possession of the earth by conquest, and defending our acquisitions by force, we exercise no exclusive prerogative, ” for “every species which has spread itself from a small point over a wide area, must, in like manner, have marked its progress by diminution… (54)


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